Sci tech headway

a regional centre for science and technology capacity building for tropical countries, mooted by India, has moved closer to reality. The facility will create a comprehensive information reservoir on climate change and its impact on health, agriculture, biodiversity and water resources in developing countries, in the tropical region.

India, toying with this idea since May 2001, successfully lobbied for the centre during the recently concluded eighth Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Confe-rence on Climate Change (unfccc). The World Meteorological Organisation (wmo), the United Nations Environment Programme (unep) and the Global Environment Facility (gef) have promised funds and assistance, said S K Srivastav, deputy director general of the India Meteorological Department (imd).

Srivastav said as many as 50 to 60 countries in the tropics are expected to make use of the facility, which should be ready within a year. As proposed, national governments, non-governmental organisations and academic institutions will work in tandem to generate original data on the impact of climate change in the tropical region.

In the initial phase, India will host and coordinate the activities of the centre. Besides, it will provide a major chunk of the seed money required for setting up the centre, which may run into Rs 100 crore or more, an official said. The centre is modelled as an autonomous non-profit international organisation on the lines of the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (icrisat), Hyderabad, which is sponsored by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (cgiar).

Tropical countries, inhabited by 65 per cent of the world's population, depend on developed countries for data on the impact of climate change on their economy, health and livelihood. This has often been a sore point in climate change negotiations; the science has often been accused of bias. The centre also has a tactical importance. It will facilitate the production of climate change knowledge that will be region-specific. Even wmo, which has the mandate to study changes in global weather change patterns, admits that except for Western Europe and North America, the data collected are generally not adequate for monitoring regional climate change. "These large patches in data from other parts of the world have prevented us from understanding the full range of changes that are occurring in the earth's climate system,' said wmo secretary general G O P Obasi.

Producing region-specific data could just give developing countries the edge in the future. The three major Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc) assessments since 1990 have shown that the phenomenon is a continually evolving issue with uncertainties, which may not be totally resolved.

India's department of science and technology (dst) has been supporting two programmes to study various aspects of climate change in the country at the National Physical Laboratory (npl), New Delhi, and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (iitm), Pune. It will coordinate the activities from the Indian side. Officials of the Union ministry of environment and forests (mef) said they would be working closely with the dst in setting up the centre.